So, how was your Christmas/Hanukkah weekend, did you get a lot of presents and ate a lot of food? I don’t judge you, not about food consumption for sure! Do you now feel like you can’t wait till the holidays are over and it’s just one more weekend for the NYE celebration and life returns to normal?
Well, not if you’re Russian! Our party season is just starting! NYE celebration is generally the biggest party of the year in the Russian community (either back in the actual Russia and neighboring Slavic countries or abroad where Russian immigrated). During the Soviet time, practicing religion or celebrating any religious holidays were forbidden (except Easter, unofficially though, but people were not reprimanded if they attended a church service during Easter, but, somehow, Christmas was not celebrated, so, it kind of makes no sense, but nothing in Soviet Russia made sense). However, the ruling party allowed to transfer some of the Christmas traditions, like having a tree, Santa Claus (called Father Frost in the Slavic culture) and exchanging presents, to NYE celebrations so we always did it on December 31. And, we also had other traditions that don’t really exist in America during Christmas time: children had masquerade balls (think Halloween combined with Christmas) where children would dress up in costumes and celebrate around the Christmas tree and get gifts from Father Frost (those gifts were generally just cheap candy, and, if you had some chocolate in there, you were lucky, and, if you were really lucky, you’d also get a tangerine: we had no luxuries, in food too, tangerines would definitely signify your “status” among the peers). I remember attending numerous masquerade balls as a child. You’d usually have one at school, along with a school winter concert, and you’d have some city-sponsored ones, the tickets to which were distributed to your parents by the government (and, if your parents had “connections”, as most everything was a barter during that time, you’d get a ticket to one of those balls where tangerines are available). All children’s costumes were homemade at that time, there were no such things as costume stores (there were barely any clothes or shoes in regular stores either) so I remember my mom dying gauze cloths and big cotton balls in the appropriate colors and then hand-sewing my costumes. Girls generally wanted to dress up as snowflakes or snow maidens (Slavic fairy tales character) or some other girly parts and boys were often dressed as clowns, snow bunnies or something similar. I remember one year, I was probably 9 or 10, I got tired of being too predictable and decided to be Pinocchio. I worked on my costumes for several weeks (and it was actually pretty good and colorful, I even constructed a big nose). I was so excited to show off my costume and maybe even win a prize. Guess what happened when I got to school in my costume? I was not allowed to join the celebration because I was not “appropriately dressed”! I spent that day locked up in a classroom while the rest of the kids had a literal ball. I bet that was the time when little me said to myself “be weird and be different but be yourself”: it’s been working pretty nicely in my 40s! 🙂 And, when I’m 80, I’ll be dressing up in tutus and red capes, and everyone will think I’m simply demented and I’ll be just having a time of my life! Maybe I’ll be Pinocchio again when I’m 80.
I digress, right? It wouldn’t be me if I didn’t!
So, NYE is just a starting point for Russians. Then we have Orthodox Christmas on January 7. My family actually came to the US on January 7 (is this an extra blessing or what?) and this coming one will make it 24 years since we arrived. (How happy are you that we did? I’ve been disturbing the American soil, and American souls, since the early 1993.) As much as the politicians and media portray the process of immigration to the US similar to the opening of the Pearly Gates and being showered with benefits, it was not. Not to say that we’re not eternally grateful to our (because this is OUR country too for the past 24 years) for accepting us when even our birth country did not want us! We came here as political refugees right after the collapse of the Soviet Union and we had literally no life left there: my mom was first demoted and then fired from her job that she had for many years as a successful manager because she was half-Jewish and because my uncle had already left to the US by that time and we were on a “shit list”; and I was bullied and beaten throughout my whole childhood for being quarter-Jewish (but, there was no such thing in the Soviet Union as being just a “bit Jewish”, if you have even one drop of blood in you, you’re automatically on a shit list); the stores were empty and we had to stand in long lines to get some milk and bread; tanks were roaming the streets of Moscow when we went to the American embassy to apply for a political asylum – there was no hope left that we could have any normal life there. I was actually the instigator and the deciding point that we had to leave the country. Imagine, if you have a 20 year-old, that you’re being told by your obviously ballsy kid that we’re immigrating! I’m still surprised they all listened, but, I guess, my mom knew I was right. So, we flew in on January 7 and felt like we had just landed on Mars for a very long time. At the departure point, the Soviets made us surrender our passports so we literally had no country left to call home. Resettlement and adjustment to a new life, a new everything, was not so easy, it was actually brutal in many ways. My mom was just a bit older than I’m now when we came. It was hard on my young self and I can only imagine how difficult it was for her! That proverbial “go back to your country” was an almost-everyday occurrence for us, and either yelling or ignoring because we didn’t speak a proper English or couldn’t understand it fast enough was just incessant! I’ll never forget when my mom and I were standing in line in a fancy Italian bakery, finally having enough money to buy some treats and taste Italian baked goods for the fist time. The sales girls kept ignoring us and taking people who were in line behind us because we were not “their people”. We left the bakery without buying anything, it was obvious we were just not welcomed there. I haven’t heard “go back to your country” thrown at me in many years. At that time, I was still young and timid, it would not go well for the opponent now! And, what is my country?! The only passports my family has are the ones from the American soil, where we have been paying taxes for the past 24 years, and where my child was born, and where my parents have been working ever since (though my dad is retired now), and where I have received my education and have been serving (quite well) the American public in the field of mental health.
I’m completely digressing again, but it’s reminiscence time.
We’re not done with the holidays though! On January 14, Russians celebrate what’s know as “old” New Year. It sounds like an oxymoron but it’s an unofficial Russian holiday to mark the time when Slavic calendar was Julian and not Gregorian like the rest of the West followed and New Year fell on what is January 14 nowadays. After the Revolution of 1917, the calendar was switched to match the rest of the world, but the holiday remained, because why would any Russian ever miss a chance to eat, drink and be merry! “Old” New Year is just a party holiday. 🙂
Are you still following me? Good! We’re finally at the recipe part and we have an interesting one today. Stollen is a traditional sweet German bread usually served during Christmas. My recipe is a bit off the usual road and is well-positioned, time-wise, between Western and Orthodox Christmas holidays. My stollen has such Slavic ingredients as poppy seeds in addition to the usual dried fruit and nuts combo and I substituted quark cheese, which is generally used for stollen, for its Russian version of cottage cheese. I just had to Russify this German recipe!
And, why would I want to combine such ingredients instead of making a traditional one? Because, when you combine something German and something Russian, magic happens!
What’s Cooking This Week
There are different varieties of stollen, some are yeast-based and some are quick bread types, which is what I have today. You can use any dried fruits and nuts plus flavor essences. Stollen may also have sweet marzipan filling, which I have added. It’s a great breakfast or dessert bread that keeps well for days (thanks to some moisture provided by the cottage cheese and marzipan). Rum-soaked raisins that I added here and lemon flavor pair nicely with richness of marzipan. And the good thing you can make the dough straight in your food processor so it can be done in a snap. I hope you can make your own version sometime soon!
Lemon and Rum Raisins Stollen with Poppy Seeds and Marzipan
2 1/4 cup of flour (I used King Arthur gluten free)
1/2 cup of sugar
1 cup of cottage cheese, liquid drained
1/2 cup of butter, cold
1 Tbsp of butter, melted
1 cup of raisins, soaked in rum overnight
2 Tbsps of rum, reserved after draining raisins
1/4 cup of dried cranberries
1/3 cup of chopped almonds
1 package of marzipan
2 tsps. of baking powder
1/2 tsp of salt
1 lemon, zest of
1/2 Tbsp of lemon extract
powdered sugar for garnish
In a bowl, combine together flour, salt, sugar, baking powder, poppy seeds and lemon zest.
Empty the mix into the food processor, add cut cold butter and pulse until it resembles crumbles, then add cottage cheese, pulse again, add eggs, rum and lemon flavor, pulse again till dough forms, add dried fruits and nuts and pulse a few times but don’t break the pieces apart.
Transfer the dough on a lightly floured surface, divide in half or four parts (I made 1 large stollen and 2 smaller ones), roll out each part to form a rectangle. Roll out marzipan to either resemble a log or the same shape as the dough, place marzipan on top and sprinkle fruits and nuts on top too.
Roll it to resemble a long bread, pinch the sides together and place on a parchment lined baking sheet.
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 degrees for about 35-40 minutes, size depending. At the last 5-7 minutes, brush melted butter on top of each loaf and finish baking.
Wait till the loaves are completely cooled off before you sprinkle powdered sugar on top.
Such an easy and delicious treat you can have during winter holidays (or really just any other time you want).
So, who wants a slice? 🙂